JOURNEY INTO NIGHT!
- By Deborah Behrens
- Photos By Hugo Glendinning
Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night, considered one of the finest American plays ever written, created two of theater’s most towering roles: celebrated stage actor James Tyrone and his morphine addicted wife, Mary. Frederic March, Brian Dennehy, Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Lange all won Tony Awards for their Broadway performances while Sir Laurence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn respectively earned an Emmy Award and Academy Award nomination for screen adaptations.
Angelenos will get a rare opportunity to see British stage and film luminaries Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville inhabit these iconic characters at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts as it presents The Bristol Old Vic production led by lauded directing legend Sir Richard Eyre. It was Eyre, former head of the National Theatre, who asked Olivier Award winner and Academy Award nominee Lesley Manville (Ghosts, Phantom Thread) to play Mary; the two then invited Tony Award and Oscar-winner Irons (The Right Stuff, Reversal of Fortune) to co-star as O’Neill’s famously tight-fisted patriarch.
O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “play of great sorrow, written in tears and blood,” produced posthumously on Broadway in 1956, takes place over a single day in August 1912 in the Tyrone’s seaside Connecticut summer home, a facsimile of the O’Neill family’s Monte Cristo Cottage in New London. His father, matinee idol James O’Neill, played Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo, more than 6,000 times over 40 years after acquiring rights to an adapted stage version of Dumas’ book. In Long Day’s Journey, James Tyrone is a classically trained actor who similarly bought a “vehicle” piece that garnered fame and financial reward but forever typecast him in that singular role. Both men bitterly regretted “selling out” for money over artistic success while their families paid the price for each one’s fiscal stinginess.
Mary toured the country with James but spent lonely nights in hotel rooms awaiting his return after nightly drinks with the cast and admiring fans. She claims her morphine addiction began when the cheap hotel doctor James procured prescribed the painkiller following the difficult birth of their youngest son Edmund. Standing in for playwright O’Neill, fragile grown-up Edmund now battles tuberculosis and his miserly Irish immigrant father over money needed for a private versus state-run sanatorium. Older brother James, Jr. or Jamie, seems fated to remain a roguish womanizing alcoholic whose wastrel ways prevent him from working as an actor. Their harrowing long day’s journey brings fraught family relationships into the farthest thing from a good night. Featuring Tony Award nominee Matthew Beard (Skylight, The Imitation Game) as Edmund, Rory Keenan (Saint Joan, Striking Out) as James, Jr., and Jessica Regan (Ill Behaviour, Doctors) as Cathleen, the summer maid.
Several actors have performed different roles in the show over the years. Jason Robards, Jr. co-starred as Jamie in the original Broadway production and then later as James, Sr., both in the 1976 revival, which he directed, opposite Zoe Caldwell as Mary and in 1988, beside Colleen Dewhurst. Jessica Lange played Cathleen in the 2000 Lyric Theatre, London production and won her Tony Award as Mary in the Roundabout Theater Company’s 2016 revival. Geraldine Fitzgerald starred as Mary in a celebrated 1971 Off Broadway staging at the Promenade Theatre then directed an all black cast ten years later in the 1981 Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art production at the Theater of St. Peter’s Church.
O’Neill’s memory play addresses the elusiveness of home, the inescapable bonds of family and the discarding of dreams in the harsh light of day. Sometimes the only way to survive is to retreat into the fog of one’s choice.
Plays June 8-July 1. For more information, click here.